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Brown’s brief agenda stokes 2009 election talk

LONDON -- Britain’s government laid out a populist — but brief — new legislative agenda on Wednesday, stoking rumors that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will call a national election in the coming year.

Wearing an imperial state crown decorated with more than 2,000 diamonds, Queen Elizabeth II read aloud Brown’s legislative agenda in a colorful ceremony at the House of Lords, symbolically beginning a parliamentary year.

Brown is staking his political future on attempts to shield low-income families from the economic slowdown, crack down on minor crime and restrict illegal immigration.

Proposed new laws include creating state-backed savings accounts, giving bank depositors more protection and tightening regulation of the Britain’s financial sector.

“My government’s overriding priority is to ensure the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn,” the queen said, speaking from a gilded throne following an opulent procession from her Buckingham Palace home.

Although the queen delivers the speech, she has no role in drafting the government’s legislative plans.

She said Brown’s government would also press for a Mideast peace settlement, look for new ways to curb Iran’s nuclear program, take a harder line against immigrants who commit offenses and introduce new laws to promote equality, including affirmative action.

However, the agenda contained only 15 proposed new laws, in contrast to 28 last year — fueling speculation that Brown hopes to quickly conclude Parliament’s business and call an early election.

“I think it is another sign that we are heading toward an election in June 2009,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a political analyst at the London School of Economics. “It’s a very thin queen’s speech.”

Dunleavy expects Brown to call an election on June 4 — a date already slated for elections to local councils and the European Parliament. Brown must call a national election before mid-2010.

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 Brown’s brief agenda stokes 2009 election talk 
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth walks through the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster on her way to the House of Lords to make her annual Queen’s Speech to Parliament, Wednesday, Dec. 3 in London. (Reuters)

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